A House Judiciary Committee hearing veered wildly off topic as soon as it began Thursday, when Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) began ranting about the Chinese Communist Party, immigration at the southern U.S. border, and “old sayings” in Texas about lynching.
The panel assembled to confront the drastic spike in discrimination and violence against Asian Americans in the past year. Rather than speak to the troubling trend, Rep. Roy instead complained about the Chinese Communist Party and COVID-19 before pivoting to attacking the panel itself for “policing free speech.”
Lawmakers convened the hearing in the wake of a string of Atlanta-area shootings earlier this week, wherein a 21-year-old white man killed eight people, six of them Asian women.
Roy labeled the shootings a “tragedy” and noted that “all Americans deserve protection and to live in a free and secure society.” Then he lost the thread entirely.
“My concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society, free speech, and away from the rule of law and taking out bad guys,” he said.
Describing the “rule of law” he idolizes, Roy then glorified lynchings, saying, “There’s old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.”
He then went on a rant about the Chinese Communist Party.
“I think the Chinese Communist Party, running the country of China, I think they’re the bad guys,” he said.
Roy then dished up a hefty serving of whataboutism ― deflecting criticism by pointing to the misdeeds of others ― by noting other violence in the country also exists, some real, some imagined:
Roy defended his off-topic rant in a written statement issued later Thursday, after his comments started to go viral online. “I meant it,” he said.
At no point did the Republican seem to understand what the hearing had actually been called to address: a troubling surge in very real hate crimes and hate incidents targeting Asian Americans.
Nearly 3,800 incidents were reported last year alone, though the official number surely vastly undercounts the reality, with many hate crimes going unreported.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Young Kim (R-Calif.) and Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) all testified, sharing their own personal experiences as Asian Americans.
Responding to Rep. Roy’s complete inability to address the actual matter at hand, Rep. Meng issued a forceful rejoinder.
“The topic [of today’s hearing] is ‘Discrimination and Violence Against Asian Americans,’” she said. “Some of us seem to be going a little off topic; I’m not sure why.”
“Our community is bleeding,” she added. “We are in pain. And for the last year we’ve been screaming out for help.”
Meng introduced a bill in the House last year condemning anti-Asian racism. Despite its relatively straightforward nature, it met fierce Republican criticism, who spent hours painting it as an attack on former President Donald Trump. Trump repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “kung flu” and employed racist tropes to distance himself from taking responsibility for its spread in the U.S.
Weng fought through tears as she delivered her closing remarks, which she addressed directly to Roy: “Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want, but you don’t have to do it by putting a bullseye on the back of Asian Americans across this country. On our grandparents. On our kids.
“This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community. To find solutions, and we will not let you take our voice away from us,” she said.
Thursday’s hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties was “long overdue,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) acknowledged in his opening statement.
The venue last addressed discrimination and violence against Asian Americans in 1987.
“Thirty-four years is too long for Congress to leave this issue untouched,” he said. “Our government must thoroughly investigate and swiftly address growing tensions and violence against the Asian American community, especially in light of the pandemic, because lives and livelihoods are truly at stake.”